The former chair of the Democratic National Committee said on Monday that his party could level the harshest of punishments on New Hampshire if its secretary of state doesn’t back away from efforts that could restrict voter participation.
Howard Dean, who ran the DNC from 2006 to 2008, argued that the Granite State could be stripped of its “first-in-the-nation” primary status and, potentially, have its presidential delegates removed.
“A state with voter suppression ought not to be honored by the Democratic Party by having the first-in-the-nation primary, period,” Dean said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “If they choose to hold their primary [before anyone else], you can strip the state of any delegates so that no delegates are awarded and you can sanction candidates who are running there.”
Dean’s remarks ratchet up the war of words being waged over a slate of restrictive voter ID laws and efforts proposed by the Trump administration. Opponents have characterized the proposals as acts of clandestine voter suppression.
Dean’s statements were echoed by Democracy for America, a political action committee that he founded after his 2008 presidential bid.
“Secretaries of state should be focused on making it easier for individuals to get to the polls and participate in our Democracy, not actively colluding with a president narcissistically focused on an enabling voter suppression to prop up the lie that he won an election he actually lost by over 3 million votes,” Neil Sroka, communications director for DFA, told The Daily Beast. “If New Hampshire doesn't have that kind of secretary of state, Democrats should think long and hard about whether the Granite State deserves to continue to have outsized say in our presidential nominating contest.”
New Hampshire has become an unlikely epicenter of the voter integrity-slash-voter suppression debate raging in the Trump era.
On Monday, a court considered a lawsuit launched by the state’s Democratic Party against SB3, a new law that would add additional requirements on voters to prove that they intend to “make a place [their] domicile” in New Hampshire before voting. Currently, non-permanent residents (like students) are allowed to vote in New Hampshire, provided they offer proof of current residency.
On Tuesday, Trump’s voter fraud panel is set to meet in New Hampshire for its second round of public hearings. Bill Gardner, New Hampshire’s secretary of state, sits on that commission, which is headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the proudest advocates of stricter voter ID measures.
Gardner’s presence on the commission has engendered fierce criticism from the state’s most senior elected officials.
“Secretary Gardner’s association with this partisan commission risks tarnishing his long legacy of fighting for the New Hampshire Primary and promoting voter participation, and it would be in keeping with his distinguished record to immediately relinquish any role with this commission,” Democratic New Hampshire Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement.
Though Trump’s commission and the advancement of laws like SB3 have fed into a larger Democratic concern about the spread of voter suppression efforts nationwide, few have suggested acts of political retribution along the lines of what Dean advocated.
Don Fowler, who served as National Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1995 to 1997, said he too was troubled by laws that would restrict students and others from voting. He also noted Gardner’s “particular personality.” But, he added, “I don’t know that his peculiarities are sufficient to taking drastic steps like Governor Dean suggested.”
Fowler noted that he had not read Dean’s proposal, which would roll back New Hampshire’s primary status if Gardner remained on Trump’s election integrity commission, and if the state’s new voter ID law were to be upheld by the courts.
But Fowler also suggested that instead of ultimatums, “conversations should be held between the DNC and its officials with the people in New Hampshire.”
There is little practically that the DNC rules committee could do to prevent New Hampshire from scheduling itself as the first-in-the-nation primary. It could, however, vote to strip the state’s delegates of voting power at the 2020 convention. Though states have faced similar punishments in the past, (Michigan and Florida were essentially stripped of their delegates in 2008), such a move would spark blowback within the party, where a certain segment of officials continue to view New Hampshire’s position at the start of the primary line as sacrosanct.
“We strongly denounce any attempt to threaten New Hampshire’s First in the Nation primary,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. “It’s also critical that Secretary of State Gardner stands up to Kris Kobach and defend the free and fair elections he runs. Gardner should most certainly step down from this shame commission which has insulted the state with baseless claims in service of voter suppression.”
Current DNC leadership, for its part, did not address the issue of punishing New Hampshire. But Sabrina Singh, the committee’s deputy communications director, reiterated Hassan and Shaheen’s call for Gardner to step down from “this sham of a commission.”
An outsized political figure in the state, Gardner has overseen New Hampshire’s elections for decades. But his presence on the Trump commission has complicated his standing. Last Thursday, Kobach wrote a column for Breitbart News in which he asserted that a majority of people who used out-of-state IDs while voting in the New Hampshire last year hadn’t registered vehicles or in-state driver's licenses in the months since. It sounded nefarious. But New Hampshire state law stipulates that a person can be based in New Hampshire for the purposes of voting while having an out-of-state driver’s license.
Gardner asserted that he didn’t necessarily agree with Kobach’s assertions. But he told the Associated Press that it was important to remain on the commission in order to determine why Americans had begun losing trust in the electoral process.
“Democracies go away when people no longer trust the very basic part of democracy, which is the ability to cast a vote for the people you want to represent you,” Gardner said. “If they lose faith in that process, it goes away. That’s how democracies die.”
This article was updated to correct stat in source quote.